NEW HOPE, Pa. – Whether the object of their fascination is Old Master paintings or baseball cards, collectors agree on one point: knowledge is king. And it was knowledge that led to a very sweet return for the consignor of a Marklin gauge 1 train set in Noel Barrett’s $955,000 Spring Auction held on May 1-2 in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
The top-selling lot – comprised of a Marklin American steam profile 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive with tender, boxcar and two passenger cars with hinged lids – was hand painted in a scarce maroon and red color scheme. “The consignor bought it cheaply on eBay, where it sat for two or three days before the seller accepted a ‘buy it now’ price – the seller wasn’t sure the paint was original
but the buyer suspected it was correct and unusual. He was right,” said auction house owner and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Noel Barrett.
Barrett is an antique train expert who is known for having auctioned one of the most famous train collections of all time, that of the late Disney animator Ward Kimball. There are few examples of trains he has not either brokered through his auctions or viewed in private collections.
Barrett said that even from looking at photographs of the potential consignment, he immediately knew the Marklin train was not a
repaint. Once the consignment was actually in his hands, Barrett was able to positively confirm its authenticity. “It’s an extremely rare color that has been pictured in a couple of reference books. There are a few repaints known to exist, but this was not one of them,” he said. Estimated at $15,000-$20,000, the train set attracted overseas bidders by phone and Internet, but ultimately it went to a collector in the room for $34,500 – a price that Barrett said was “right where the smartest money said it was going to go.” All prices
quoted include 15% buyer’s premium.
A pricey train accessory came in the form of a red Marklin railroad ticket dispenser made for the American market. Elaborately enameled and embossed, the stand dispensed heavy paper tickets for travel between several U.S. cities. Against an estimate of $2,500-$3,500, it sold to a local collector for $8,625.- a high priced ticket indeed.
The auction’s centerpiece was the advertising and Americana collection of the late Gordon Stark, a pioneer dealer and collector from Kansas City. “Visually, it was a stunning collection,” said Barrett, “but Gordon was an emotional buyer rather than a condition buyer, and that definitely hurt the prices of some of the higher-priced advertising signs.”
On the flip side of the coin, there was aggressive bidding on rare signs from the Stark collection that did boast top condition and nice graphics. For example, a small lithographed-tin sign advertising Blizzard Storm Front covers, which were used to protect vehicles during inclement weather, included a wonderful central image of a horse drawn carriage with its storm cover in place. The rare 15″ by 11″-inch sign in excellent condition breezed past its $200-$300 estimate to settle at $4,600.
A double-sided tin diecut sign touting Pennsylvania Bicycle Tires and featuring a colorfully dressed rider hunched over the wheel of his bike had been estimated at $4,000-$5,000. With condition and eye appeal on its side, it crossed the finish line at $9,200.
Barrett commented that he was “pleasantly surprised to see prices on European mechanical tin back to where they used to be ten years ago,” and noted that most of the buyers for rare, French-made Martin toys – the majority of which came from the Kathy and Athel Spilhaus collection – were Americans. “Maybe it’s because the Euro is down, but I had expected more European bidders for these toys,” he said. A Martin mechanical tin Shoeshine Boy, ex Spilhaus collection, partially redressed and exhibiting some paint loss to the head, had been entered in the sale with a $1,000-$2,000 estimate. In spite of these small exceptions to condition, it had no trouble eliciting $14,950 from a California bidder.